During the 2010s, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of people involved in jihadist activity in Finland. However, most of this activity is still quite small in scale, and it is mainly concerned with providing support in the form of recruitment and financing. Jihadist communication online has also increased during the present decade. The University of Helsinki has conducted two studies on these topics, commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior.
"Today there is a lot of talk about jihadist activity, but so far we have had very little research-based information on the situation in Finland. The aim of the research project was to construct a general picture of the forms of jihadist activity in Finland", says University Lecturer Leena Malkki.
The most important single factor behind the evolution of jihadist activity has been the conflict in Syria and Iraq and the ISIS ‘caliphate’ project, which have mobilised new activists and brought together supporters and activists from different backgrounds. Now the growth phase inspired by the conflict in Syria and Iraq and ISIS seems for the most part to be over.
In the 2010s the numbers of people travelling to the conflict area have been growing. As the conflict in Syria and Iraq was ongoing, the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) identified more than 80 persons who travelled to the conflict area, but the real number is probably higher, says the Ministry of the Interior on a press release.
About 20 people have returned to Finland, while an estimated 20 foreign combatants were killed during the conflict. Most of the people involved in jihadist activity are still men, but there are indications of a growing interest and participation in jihadist activities among women in Finland as well. This is the most clearly seen in the case of those leaving for Syria and Iraq.
Online threats noticed
The only jihadist attack in Finland is the mass stabbing that took place in Turku in August 2017. As far as known, the perpetrator had hardly any contacts to networks interested in jihadist activity in Finland. There is no public knowledge of any attack attempts or plans that should be taken seriously. Several cases of online threats of attacks are known, but all of these have proven unfounded, according to the Ministry of the Interior.
The release published by the Ministry of the Interior says that "the entry of asylum seekers to Finland in 2015–2017 increased the numbers of people with contacts to jihadist activity in our country. Based on public sources, however, it is difficult to present any detailed assessments of its impact on the situation in Finland. In recent years we have seen broader networking than before among those interested in jihadist thinking and activity, but in Finland jihadist activity is still mostly sporadic and not very well organised"
Jihadist content moved to encrypted platforms
"Jihadist online communication has also increased in Finland since 2010, and by the end of the decade we had more of it than ever before", says the Governmental release. "Finns were mentioned in ISIS materials, and persons living in Finland produced and disseminated jihadist content in the Finnish language. This reflects the general trend in jihadist activity connected to Finland. In international comparison, however, the volume of communication related to Finland is still small".
The mentioned study was concerned with jihadist online communication related to Finland in 2014–2018. The focus was on jihadist content openly available online. Over the past three years there has been a significant decrease in the volume of open jihadist online communication as technology companies are now active in deleting online content that incites to violence or praises it. With certain exceptions, the material used in the study is no longer available online.
As open online communication has become more difficult, "jihadist online communication has moved to closed and encrypted channels", the experts say. In the study indications were also found that these closed and encrypted channels had been and could still be used for disseminating jihadist content related to Finland and interactions associated with this.
The impact of jihadist online communication on Finland is not limited to content that is directly linked to Finland. Online communication is produced in countless languages, and it is often also consumed in languages other than one’s own mother tongue. It is often the case that the producers and consumers of jihadist online communication do not live in the same country, but they are part of a broader international movement and community.